Many prominent ethicists, including Shelly Kagan, John Rawls, and Thomas Scanlon, accept a kind of epistemic modesty thesis concerning our capacity to carry out the project of ethical theorizing. But it is a thesis that has received surprisingly little explicit and focused attention, despite its widespread acceptance. After explaining why the thesis is true, I argue that it has several implications in metaethics, including, especially, implications that should lead us to rethink our understanding of Reductive Realism. In particular, the thesis of epistemic modesty in ethics implies a kind of epistemic modesty about the metaphysical nature of ethics, if Reductive Realism about the metaphysical nature of ethics is true, and it implies that normative concepts are indispensable to practical deliberation in a way that answers an influential objection to Reductive Realism from Jonathan Dancy, David Enoch, William FitzPatrick, and Derek Parfit.
KeywordsNormative ethics Metaethics Metaphilosophy Normative Concepts Reductive Realism Robust Realism
Special thanks to David Copp, Terence Cuneo, Alexander Dietz, Stephen Finlay, Joe Horton, Nathan Robert Howard, Tanya Kostochka, Janet Levin, Michael Milona, Mark Schroeder, Caleb Perl, Abelard Podgorski, Ralph Wedgwood, and Daniel Wodak for insightful feedback on various drafts of this paper. Thanks also to audiences at the USC Speculative Society and National Autonomous University of Mexico for helpful comments.
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